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A note from Carrarn

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Irwin couldn't help but enjoy the solid feel of his new boots as he walked beside Greldo while Wignut was turning smaller behind them. The small pack on his back gave him some comfort, as he knew it held a flagon of water and some rations.

 

I wish they had also given us a coat, he thought as a gust of cold wind tousled his hair and pulled on the loose flaps of his jacket. It wasn't the first cold breeze since they walked out into the windy planes beyond Wingnut. Gritting his teeth, he focused on their destination.

 

Ahead of them was what the locals called Sleepers Forest, a dark forest that stretched from the hill they had arrived at all the way to another hill a half day's travel away. Though smaller than Gloomforest near Malorin, even an hour from it, Irwin saw the differences.

 

Sleepers Forest had a dense undergrowth of large vines and tall, dark green, almost black-leafed trees packed densely together.

 

An hour later, he was tired, his legs heavy from the unfamiliar weight, and staring at the edge of the forest. Delwood turned and looked at their groups, his face without expression. Behind him was a narrow, dark path leading into the forest.

 

"The first of the three portals is a ten-minute trek inside. Make sure to stay close together and don't wander off no matter what you see or hear. Any questions?"

 

To Irwin's surprise, Greldo stepped forward. "Do you know what type of portals there are?"

 

"Only one of three was scouted, as it appeared a few days ago. The rangers haven't had the time to investigate the other two. The one we did scout seems to lead to a cavernous aquatic area filled with plants and swampy areas."

 

There was a bit of excited chatting from one of the groups while a slender, black-haired boy nodded at the others with a weary grin on his face. The others were whispering to him, and Irwin picked up a few words from a girl that spoke louder than the others.

 

Perfect for you? He guessed the boy must have some type of water or plant card, though which common could possibly make them this confident, he had no idea. Then again, he knew of so few cards that weren't surprising.

 

Delwood raised an eyebrow. "Anything else?"

 

Greldo grimaced but shook his head.

 

"Good. Then let's go," the ranger said.

 

"What was that about?" Irwin whispered as he moved next to Greldo and into the forest.

 

"It would be best if we can find another fire portal," Greldo whispered. "It's what we did during practice, and your flame would give us a major advantage."

 

Irwin didn't respond but silently followed him. Why hadn't he thought of that? He frowned, knowing that it was partially because of the constant pressure. He'd never been that good with it and preferred some quiet time to contemplate. Otherwise, he'd just run into trouble, as his mum always told him.

 

I need to make sure we don't enter a cold portal, or I'll be dead within moments, he thought before realizing he could still summon his flame at those times.

 

Greldo entered the forest, following after Rachel and Twintin, and as Irwin stepped after him, the light from the cloud-filled sky faded to a ruddy gloom. Thirty feet in, all he saw was the path ahead, and thick bushes and leaves left and right. A moldy scent hung in the air, but the temperature did increase slightly.

 

Delwood proved on the point, as within ten minutes Irwin followed Greldo into a rather spacious, leaf-filled area. In the center hung a red portal with small swirling tendrils of energy along its edges. The canopy above split apart to show the gray sky, and Delwood stopped and turned.

 

"Alright, which party is going in this one?" he asked without any preamble.

 

"Is this the water one?" the black-haired boy asked as the group around him looked at the ranger.

 

"No, that's the next one. This is the one that appeared yesterday. Now, we don't have much time. One of you will need to enter, after which I'll guide the others to the next ones."

 

Didn't portals become stronger the longer they remain? Irwin thought as he tried to recall how that worked. It made sense to him, as they eventually turned Uncommon, so it would be reasonable to assume they started weak. He looked at Greldo, but his friend was focused fully on the ranger.

 

"What happens if we come out again?" a boy almost as tall as Daubutim asked worriedly.

 

"You will need to wait here until I return, or if you didn't finish the portal, go back in," Delwood said.

 

"What if we just leave? We only have common cards, and I don't want to die!" someone said, and Delwood looked around, but nobody stepped forward.

 

If we need to find our way out of the forest, being this close to the edge would be best, Irwin suddenly thought. Even if the people wouldn't want to help him, they could always say they had tried!

 

"I would advise you not to try. Besides that, even if you find your way back, nobody will help you in Wingnut," Delwood said, his bow moving up slightly. "Now. Who will enter this one?"

 

"We will go," Irwin said, hearing a surprised hiss from Olban, which he ignored.

 

Elwood turned his attention at him, then at those around him, and nodded. Irwin thought he saw a tiny bit of relief in the ranger's eyes, though he could be mistaken.

 

"Alright. Enter, and I'll return for you after you succeed," the ranger said, which almost made Irwin snort. The chances of them getting out alive were small, and succeeding? Even less so.

 

He swallowed his growing fear and stepped towards the rippling portal, and as he closed in, he realized it seemed far more intimidating than the one in the door opening. It was easily three meters high and two wide, and he wondered for a moment if they grew when they went from common to uncommon. A quick look over his shoulder saw that the others had followed him, Olban glaring at him while the others just stared fearfully at the door.

 

I hope I see you again, mum, Irwin thought as he clenched his fists and stepped through the portal.

 

For a moment, everything was so dark that not even his night vision could pierce it while a bone-shivering cold slowly seeped into him. Before he even had time to be afraid, there was a burst of light, and everything changed.

 

Irwin's feet thudded onto a dusty slab as a bright sun burned down on him, causing him to blink from the sudden change. Fingers before his eyes, he looked around and saw heat shimmers everywhere while the scent in the air was heavy with the heat of summer. The cold that came from both the trip and the portal rapidly melted away, and he felt energized.

 

By Gelwin's beard, I'm glad it's hot here, he thought.

 

A soft howling wind made him jolt out of his reverie, and he looked around. Towering gray buildings that seemed to touch the few puffy white clouds in the sky were crumbled and charred at the top. Each seemed taller than the tallest tree he'd seen, with eerily square windows so evenly positioned across their sides that it seemed unreal. Green leaves and tendrils poked out of them, the edges in direct sunlight darkened and curled up. On the shadow sides, he saw a dull green glow come from the windows.

 

Where are we? Irwin thought as he looked around.

 

There were buildings everywhere, some reduced to a one-story pile of ruble, while others must have been ten or more. How did anyone build something like this? Some cards? Confused, he continued in a full circle, finding nothing but dust and rubble between the buildings, with an occasional gust of wind creating a small whirlwind of sand. His eyes widened when he saw the portal was still behind him, but not as it was before. Instead of red, it was so black he couldn't see even a hint of detail in it.

 

A shudder ran along its edges, and Greldo hopped out, stumbling as he landed on a deep gouge in the cracked, square slabs. He let out a pained hiss as he covered his eyes and almost stumbled.

 

Irwin watched in surprise as he looked around before quickly jumping in the shade cast by one of the massive buildings. "What's wrong?"

 

Greldo didn't respond but opened the front of his jacket, taking slow breaths as if he was sick.

 

Irwin almost said that it wasn't that hot when he caught himself. He'd sat in a fireplace without being hurt. Who was he to talk about, hot?

 

"So hot," Greldo whispered, just as Daubutim and the others appeared one at a time.

 

Twintin let out a startled scream that tore through the silence, and Irwin rushed forward, quickly pulling her into the shadow before doing the same for Rachel. Daubutim had already joined Greldo.

 

"We can't stay here," Greldo said between his ragged breathing, and Irwin saw sweat run down his head. "Let's go into one of the buildings."

 

Irwin frowned as he looked at the green glow that came from the otherwise shadowy entrance of the building. "We don't know what's in there," he said.

 

"So what! If we stay out here, we will die," Olban snapped.

 

"We could just head back," Twintin cried.

 

"Let's wait for a few minutes. Perhaps it's cooler in the buildings," Greldo said as he stumbled towards the entrance from which a dim green glow came.

 

Irwin ran forward, past him. As he stepped through the doorway, he belatedly thought that he should have summoned his flame. As soon as he stepped into the building, the temperature dropped considerably, and a rustling of leaves came from a venerable jungle of green. Vines and bushes grew rampant, growing over the roots and branches of other plants, while pale-white mushrooms sat everywhere, glowing a dim green light that cast odd shadows. The plants seemed to stay far from the door, and a few in the middle had char marks, creating a small open area between the door and the surrounding wall and the jungle.

 

"By Gelwin, this is better," Olban whispered from behind him as he stepped further into the room. "I thought I was suffocating out there!"

 

"Keep quiet," Irwin said as he looked around. He had no idea how spacious the room was, as all he could see were the plants. Parts of the roof were visible, cracked, and with large fissures through which the plants grew.

 

Olban didn't respond, but there was an odd scuffle, and as he turned, he saw a long vine wrapped around the boy's neck. His eyes bulged, and his feet tried to reach the ground as he was lifted up. Behind him, more vines were shooting over the roof and wall, moving towards the door.

 

"Irwin!" Greldo screamed in panic, jumping back from one of the vines.

 

A flash of red light illuminated the room, cranking up the temperature as Irwin's flame hung above his hand. He jumped forward and held it against part of the vine holding Olban.

 

There was a blur as the vine released Orwan and retracted, slapping against Irwin's leg as it went. He felt something tug his leg, but he managed to remain on his feet, swirled around, and jabbed his flame at any vine that moved. More green blurs came, and a moment later, the vines were gone, leaving only the other bushes and leaves.

 

Irwin held his flame forward, pulling a coughing Olban up with his other hand.

 

"It moved," Olban said between his ragged breathing. He stumbled back out into the heat, where the others stood, drenched in sweat. "So fast, I couldn't respond. Tried to strangle me!"

 

"Irwin, we can't stay here. We will die," Greldo said, not looking at him. "We need to go out now."

 

A thunderous howl came from behind them, and Irwin flinched, then ran out of the building. Next to the portal stood two black hounds with fiery hair across their flanks. Their eyes burned like cinders as they stared at the group.

 

"Back in the building," Irwin shouted as he held out his flame. The others scrambled past him and into the building as he backed up.

 

The hounds padded forward, blinking white teeth bare and letting out a deep growl. Steam rose from their nostrils. They stopped before the shadow, looking at him before passing along the edge. A howl came from the left and looking there, Irwin saw three more hounds lope towards them.

 

"Irwin, the vines!" Greldo screamed from inside, and he cursed, turned, and sprinted into the building.

 

Dozens of vines were swaying in the air while Daubutim was holding one between his hands. Olban was being dragged away by his ankle, and the girls were huddled behind Greldo, whose hands were clenched around two vines trying to drag him two ways.

 

Irwin ran towards Greldo, slashing his flame across one of the vines, leaving a black scar before it whirred away too fast for him to notice. A look showed the other had let go as well, but Olban was almost inside a dense leaf-filled area.

 

"No, no, no," Irwin groaned as he ran forward.

 

Five steps from Olban, the boy looked at him with panic in his eyes, his hands covered in a thick hardened crust. "Help!" Then he was pulled into the bushes, his scream quickly dampening, then faded altogether.

 

"No!" Irwin shouted, jumping forward with his arm and flame outstretched. A sizzling came as the fire torched the leaves that curled up, but they didn't pull back as the vines had. Waving his flame over them, the plants began drying up, and a burning scent drifted up.

 

"Stop it! He's gone, there is nothing we can do, and if you start a fire, we are goners! Remember those demon dogs!" Greldo shouted, pulling him back.

 

Irwin stared at the wall of leaves, charred where he'd tried to get through, gasping for breath. "But- but," he muttered.

 

"We can't help him!" Greldo shouted, and Irwin took a few steps back.

 

He knew Greldo was right, but as he looked at the wall, he couldn't get Olban's terrified face out of his mind. With a shiver, he stepped further back and looked at the others who were sitting beside the wall, sweat still dripping from their faces. Twintin was crying softly, while Daubutim was staring at the greenery, seeming dazed.

 

"What do we do now?" Irwin muttered stupidly.

 

"We need to find a way back to the portal," Greldo said as he moved away from the vegetation and put his back against the wall. "We don't have enough water to stay here. This isn't like a training portal where we can go without food and water."

 

Irwin moved to stand before them, his flame still out.

 

Nobody spoke for a while, and Twintins sobbing slowly died down. Finally, Irwin sighed. His mind seemed numb now. They were here for five minutes and had already lost one. Were they unlucky with the rift they picked? And how could they get another fire-typed rift?

 

Is he still alive?

 

The thought flashed through his weary mind as he gazed at the wall, and he pushed it back as he felt fear growing at the idea of Olban crying deep in that vegetation as those plants did who knew what to him. Greldo was right. Even if he was alive, there was no way for them to do anything to help. His flame would have to be much stronger to get through-

 

Irwin's thoughts stopped as a single idea flashed forward. He remembered how his flame grew if he killed an imp, and there were dogs outside… what if… As he turned around, he saw Greldo look at him with a frown.

 

"If I can kill those dogs, I might be able to burn through those plants," he said, his lethargy leaving him as fast as it had come, replaced by the desire to try something.

 

The others looked up while Greldo shook his head. "We have no idea how strong those dogs are or if they react to your flame as those Imps did. What if-"

 

"We can't just do nothing," Irwin said as his mind began running. "We have no idea if those vines will attack again. What if so many come that I can't keep them away?" As he spoke, he felt his anger grow. What if Greldo was the next? Did he have to abandon him too?

 

"We should wait for the sun to set," Greldo said. "Those dogs don't seem willing to move into the shadows, so eventually, they should leave."

 

"And what if something worse comes then?" Irwin said, his voice rising. He knew he was being unreasonable, but he had to do something!

 

Before Greldo could say anything, Daubutims dull voice sounded out. "This looks like a desert. My father taught me that it becomes very, very cold in deserts at night."

 

Irwin's rising anger froze over, his breath lodged in his throat as he felt fear tickle him.

 

He saw the realization of that set in with Greldo. If it became cold here… not only could other things come out, but he would be next to useless. And if it became cold enough, they couldn't do anything either. Just huddle around his flame, which would draw everything here.

 

"How sure are you of what your father said and that this is a desert?" Greldo asked, staring at Daubutim.

 

"I never forget what my father tells me," Daubutim said, his eyes narrowing. "And I have never been to a desert. There is none on Clour peninsula." At this, he looked at Greldo as if he should know this before slowly continuing. "But the book said there was incredible heat, oddities in the air, and sand everywhere. This matches what is outside."

 

Greldo wiped his sweat away as he struggled up and looked at Irwin.

 

"Let's go see what those dogs are doing."

 

Irwin nodded, walked towards the door, then stopped and turned around. There was no sign of the vines, but the last time he'd left, they had returned quickly. "I think I should stay here," he said, pointing at the plants behind them.

 

"Yes, maybe that's better," Greldo said as he turned and stepped out. His strangled gasp almost made Irwin run out anyway, but a few moments later, he stepped back in. As hot as it was, he was pale as a sheet.

 

"What's wrong?" Irwin asked.

 

"There are a lot of dogs out there," Greldo said, and from his tone, Irwin knew he didn't mean ten. Looking at the vegetation, he took a gamble, ran forward to the door, and quickly looked outside.

 

Hundreds of hounds lay or walked around the shadow in front of their building, many staring straight at the entrance.

 

"Vines!" Greldo shouted.

 

Irwin, mind still reeling, almost stumbled as he turned and saw a vine shoot over the ground towards the group. He ran forward, but halfway there, the vine stopped and pulled back before he could torch it.

 

Slightly out of breath, he walked to Greldo. Rachel, Twintin, and Daubutim were staring at him, and he swallowed.

 

"I think we have no choice but to wait for night to arrive…"

 

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About the author

Carrarn

Bio: I am mainly a reader, but at some point, I found that I wanted to try my hand at writing something. As it goes with these ideas, it never really happened, that is until LitRPG's showed up. Something about the concept and idea greatly appealed to me, but I couldn't find that many stories I enjoyed. So back in 2018 I began writing my first novel, Nothing but Bones. I finished it half a year later and started on Minlings, which is still being written and is a GameLit. For the NaNoWriMo of 2019, I wrote a short story called Again and again, which is influenced by GameLit. For NaNoWriMo of 2020 I started writing a story called Kernstalion, a full on hard system LitRPG.

As I am not a native English speaker, I expect you will find many weird mistakes, especially the phonetic pronunciation mixups. Things like, 'Look up at the sealing!' might happen.

Books:

Upcoming: "Nothing But Bones: Undead AI: Part 2"

On 01-08-2022, "Nothing But Bones 3: The Lethargy", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B8G4LMR7

On 21-07-2021, "Nothing But Bones: Undead AI: Part 1", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09B2HV6KT

On 16-04-2021, "Nothing But Bones 2: The Chaos Rifts", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0927J2KQP

On 14 May 2020, "Nothing But Bones 1: The Wasteland", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B088C4YS7W/

On 10 September 2020, "Again and Again", released on Amazon and Kindle unlimited!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HKCLK97/

Stories on RR- updated 25-02-2021
Kernstalion [One chapter per week]
Minglings [Hiatus - Currently being edited and releasing on my Patreon]
Nothing but bones [Book 3 being released on RR]

Currently, Nothing but bones book 2 and 3 , and The undead AI: Part 1, are free to read on my Patreon.

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